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Monday, December 31, 2012

Baseball Notes for December 31, 2012

The holiday season slowed down the hectic MLB offseason, which had operated on full blast for more than a month. Although many free agents have signed with new teams, there is still a lot going on around baseball as 2012 comes to an end.

***It may be the week after Christmas, but it’s never too late to share stories of baseball and good will. Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times wrote about a young fan’s actions and experience of a lifetime while attending a Los Angeles Dodgers’ game earlier this year.

11-year-old Jack Baur (no, not the guy from 24) was sitting in the stands during an August game when he was struck by a bat that slipped from the grasp of Los Angeles third baseman Hanley Ramirez and ricocheted off another child. Fortunately, both youngsters were okay. Security immediately retrieved the bat to return to Ramirez, but new team owner Magic Johnson saw everything transpire and brought autographed balls to the two boys and made sure they weren’t hurt. It turned out that wasn’t the end of the situation.

Bruce Nash, a television producer and co-author of The Baseball Hall of Shame book series, saw Baur receive a bat after the game from team officials and then give it up to the other child who Ramirez’s bat had hit first. Nash was so touched by the gesture that he helped arrange for Baur to receive another bat from Ramirez; a request that was fulfilled by the star. The all-around chain of wonderful gestures is just another example of why baseball is the greatest game there is.

***Boston Red Sox pitcher Daniel Bard struggled through a multitude of issues last season that effectively pushed him off the roster. However, in a recent interview with WEEI’s Rob Bradford, Bard was surprisingly upbeat about his future. While not making excuses, he did reveal that he pitched through a stiff back last season, but enters 2013 feeling both mentally and physically refreshed. He’s also looking forward to being reunited with new manager John Farrell, who was his first major league pitching coach. Only time will tell, but signs seem positive that Bard can overcome his problems and become an effective pitcher for Boston once again.

***Godzilla has retired. Japanese slugger Hideki Matsui came to the U.S. after 10 superstar seasons with the legendary Yomiuri Giants, where he hit .304 with 332 home runs. He went on to play another 10 seasons in the majors, primarily with their gold standard team, the New York Yankees. While his American numbers weren’t as spectacular (.282 with 175 home runs), he was a solid outfielder/DH, whose teams made the playoffs six time, including 2009’s World Series winning Yankees (Matsui was that year’s World Series MVP, hitting .615 with three home runs).

In addition to his accomplishments on the baseball diamond, Matsui also became known for his affinity for adult entertainment. Reportedly the owner of more than 55,000 illicit videos, Matsui apparently isn’t doing anything illegal, but now has one of the more bizarre footnotes in baseball history.

***Former major league reliever Ugueth Urbina was released from a Venezuelan prison after having served seven-and-a-half years for attempting to kill five workers on his family’s ranch. The 38-year-old right-hander played for six teams in an 11-year major league career, most notably for the Montreal Expos and Red Sox.

Urbina told reporters he hopes to resume his professional pitching career, but he may want to re-evaluate his goals. The United States have strict laws preventing entry to the country for those with criminal backgrounds. Anyone with convictions for "crimes involving moral turpitude" are strictly prohibited from receiving a visa. Urbina may want to jumpstart his baseball career again, but it appears that won’t be happening in the majors.

***The Red Sox finalized a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates that brings closer Joel Hanrahan to Beantown. In addition to maligned reliever Mark Melancon, Boston sent back several non-premium prospects to complete the deal.

With Andrew Bailey under contract, the addition of Hanrahan seems a bit redundant. With a fastball that has averaged nearly 96 mph for his career, there is no doubt that Hanrahan is one of the most powerful pitchers in baseball.  His acquisition is another in a long line of non-star additions Boston GM Ben Cherington has made this offseason. Even though he is one season away from free agency, the relative pittance Boston paid for his services to be their closer in 2013 justifies the move.

***Free-agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski signed a one-year contract worth $7.5 million with the Texas Rangers. In many ways the deal may be disappointing to both sides.

Pierzynski is coming off a career year, where he hit .278 with 27 home runs and 77 RBI. However, he just turned 36, which is a precarious age for catchers. It also has to be more than a little galling to him that instead of reaping a large payday from his impressive 2012 season, he will likely finish out his career on one-year deals.  Heck, even Russell Martin, who has hit a combined .224 over the past two seasons, was able to score a two-year, $17 million deal earlier this offseason.

Under normal circumstances the Rangers would be happy to add a player of Pierzynski’s caliber, but since he represents their most significant acquisition this offseason, his signing has to be tinged with disappointment. Not only did Texas allow star outfielder Josh Hamilton to sign with their division rivals, the Los Angeles Angels, but they were also unable to land Zack Greinke, the top available starting pitcher this, who instead went to the Dodgers. As things stand today, there is little doubt that Texas has lost a lot of ground in the AL that can’t simply be made up by their new catcher. 


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